While many people would happily campaign for something on behalf of a friend or loved one, they may have a hard time asking for things for themselves. We’re taught when we’re little that asking for too much is a surefire way to lose friends and damage our reputation. The nagging partner, the annoying employee—they’re almost like fairytale characters warning us not to be too demanding of those around us. No wonder we find ourselves adrift in adulthood with intense anxiety surrounding asking for change.
Standing up for what you need can be challenging. Even the thought of asking can be nerve wracking, most often because we immediately jump to the “what if” consequences of such a request.
“If I ask for a raise, I might just get fired.”
“If I ask to take our relationship to the next level, he’ll freak out and break up with me.”
“If I ask her to be less self-interested when we hang out, it’ll end our friendship.”
So we don’t ask. The situation continues and worsens. We grow more and more frustrated and find ourselves steeped in resentment, feelings of being undervalued or taken advantage of, and worried our relationships could fall apart at any moment. We get into arguments. We create grudges. We explosively quit our jobs.
It would be so much easier to preemptively address these issues, or at least address them before they blow up, by bringing them to the attention of the other interested parties in a way that is productive, respectful and positive. That is to say, more likely to elicit the response we desire.
Here’s how to ask for what you want and need without burning bridges.
Acknowledge you will need to communicate
At the heart of most interpersonal frustration is a lack of clear communication, particularly in instances where one party feels unheard or unvalued by the other. We can’t assume our bosses, partners or friends know what we’re thinking, and if we don’t get the message across succinctly, we can’t expect them to change their behavior or provide us with something we need. You will need to say something—and yes, face-to-face is probably going to yield better results than a text or a haphazard email.
Plan a specific time to make your request
Casually yelling after your boss as they get off the elevator isn’t an effective way to communicate what you need. Ask for a meeting at their convenience, or set up a walk-and-talk with a friend by introducing the idea broadly: “I’d love to chat about the projects coming up” or “I would love to take you for coffee to chat about what happened last week.” Putting it on the books gives you time to prepare and increases the likelihood the other person will be in a receptive headspace.
Figure out why you’re asking before you ask
Deep down, what are you asking for? Chances are, it’s not something outrageous. If you’re hoping to be looped into more project planning conversations at work, perhaps you’re looking to feel more utilized and valued within your team. If you’re hoping your partner will spend more time talking to you than looking at their iPhone in the evening, perhaps you’re looking to feel more connected with that person. As with any goal, having a clear motivation is essential to seeing it play out as you wish.
Be specific when asking for what you want
Bad news: Passive aggressive hints don’t work. Get clear on why you want the thing you’re asking for, then formulate a list of outcomes that will allow you to know your desired result has happened.
What does the result look like? Is it being cc’ed on emails concerning a certain project? Is it having a friend show up on time for plans? Is it having a daily technology blackout from 8 p.m. onwards?
Refer back to your motivation for asking for these things and use it to justify your ask.
“It feels to me like we spend a lot of time in the same room ignoring each other while we’re on Facebook. I would love to feel more connected when we spend time together. What would you think of implementing an iPhone-free policy after 8 p.m.?”
Preparing these points in advance can help guide the conversation so that you’re able to clearly articulate what you need, why you need it and steps you’d like to take to get there. Having a timeline, such as “in the next two weeks” or “before Christmas,” can also provide some structure for the other party to work within and helps create a realistic delivery everyone can understand.
Similarly, when asking for a raise, do your research. Come prepared with points that have real weight behind them: your successes at work to date, the compensation for your job industry-wide, your future potential and big ideas that would make a raise seem not only logical, but deserved.
Nothing will shut down your request more quickly than a bad attitude or an it’s-not-fair approach. Let’s compare the following:
“Nancy, I think it’s complete BS that Rachel is being bumped up to director. She barely does any work and she always leaves early. It was a huge mistake to promote her. It should have been me.”
“Nancy, I’ve heard Rachel will be made a director next month. I wonder if you might be open to discussing my path in the company. Directorship is definitely an avenue I’m interested in, and I’d love to know more about how my skill set—and my successes here to date—could put me on a path to that level.”
Your request will be more respected if it comes from a place of positive forward movement, rather than throwing someone else under the bus. Show that you have the drive and the proven results to justify a promotion. After all, asking in itself is a demonstration of your professionalism.
Confidence is key
You’re unlikely to get more than what you ask for, so be bold and aim high. You don’t need to be rude or aggressive—just confident. If you can convey to the other party that you are worthy of that promotion or not being stood up, they’ll be more likely to agree.
You’ll be more likely to get at least a portion of what you need, especially if you go big. Maybe your partner won’t be ready to move in together if you ask to take things to the next level (and there could be many reasons for that), but perhaps they’d be willing to share keys or have more overnight visits each week. If you’re open to a little compromise, you might find you’re still better off than having not asked at all. The key, though, is still to ask as though you’re worthy of the outcome you want.
Recognize that having your needs met is key to meeting others’ needs
A wise woman I know likes to say, “When mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy,” and it’s true. You will most definitely need to consider your own happiness, particularly if you’re the kind of person who strives to make others’ lives easier by meeting their needs. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or under-appreciated, your capacity to give is diminished. Asking for what you need, especially if it’s some support, will only help you to serve others better.